University of Michigan issues draft “Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan ” report, demands public comments by March 20

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The University of Michigan Graham Sustainability Institute issued its  “Draft Final Report” of “Hydraulic Fracturing in Michigan” on February 20. The report is downloadable at http://graham.umich.edu/knowledge/ia/hydraulic-fracturing .

The Graham Institute allows only 30 days — until March 20 — for the public to read and comment on the 277-page report.

Benzie-Well-sq-200

Unlike the Institute’s technical reports issued in September 2013, this draft does tip its hat to the ballot initiative of the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, with footnotes to the website, http://letsbanfracking.org . And a page of the “Public Participation” chapter has a table purporting to show a ban’s strengths and weaknesses.

Lamentably, it gets them all wrong.

For example, a weakness of a ban is said to be that it “does not involve the public in the decision making process” — a ludicrous proposition given that a ban by ballot initiative–which the report acknowledges is in the works–would be voted on by millions of people after collection of signatures of hundreds of thousands.

Another weakness of a ban (again, the general concept of a ban) is said to be that the state may be subject to legal action as a result of taking of property. The table does not notice that a ban on horizontal fracking is not a total taking. The initiative, for example, will not affect the vertical fracking which Michigan has conducted for decades, a fact which will weaken or decimate any legal taking claim. Developers have lost the last two taking claims advanced to Michigan appellate courts, following the loss of nearly every taking claim by oil-gas developers across the US nationally in recent years.

The Graham table has no mention of the legacy costs to Michigan taxpayers for the ongoing costs of environmental contamination. Which will be considerable if years and years of Michigan frack wastes and frack wastes from other states accumulate here in landfills, injection wells, wastewater treatment plants and other facilities across the state.

Finally, no notice is given to a signal strength of the Committee’s initiative, that it will reverse the state’s policy in effect since 1939, of requiring judges, juries, and DEQ regulators to interpret the law so as to “foster” the oil-gas industry “favorably” and “maximize” oil-gas production. The current policy in effect means the DEQ has to work to maximize oil-gas profits, and maximize Michigan’s oil-gas contribution to global warming. The initiative will substitute a requirement that DEQ regulators prioritize water and human health.

As we have reported repeatedly, political momentum favors a statewide ban, such as the one New York announced in December. http://banmichiganfracking.org/?p=2870

The latest Pew poll, after last fall’s elections, showed: “There was a particularly dramatic change of views in the Midwest where increased use of fracking is now opposed by a 47% to 39% margin compared with the majority who favored its use in 2013.”

Michigan says “bring it on” to more radioactive frack wastes

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2.13_frack_1.2Today Gov. Rick Snyder’s panel on radioactive waste, which met in secret last fall, issued its report, clearing the way for Michigan to continue taking radioactive frack sludge and other frack wastes to sites in Belleville and Detroit owned by US Ecology. An agreement made by the frack waste company, which operates a Detroit waste processing facility and a processing and Class I landfill facility in Van Buren Township, and the State was to hold off on taking in frack wastes until after the report was issued.  That day is here.

The Detroit News reported the release of the panel’s paper today: Mich. panel: no changes in handling radioactive sludge.

The TENORM panel came about after Ban Michigan Fracking broke the story in August that 36 tons of Pennsylvania radioactive frack sludge, held up for weeks with nowhere to go, were approved for disposal in Michigan by Michigan DEQ officials.

Radioactive frack sludge in Washington County, held for months at a Range Resource waste impoundment site, is now off the site and gone to who knows where. Submitted photo.

The 36 tons of radioactive frack sludge from PA sat here for months and then disappeared. Submitted photo.

 

 

The 36 tons of  radioactive frack sludge in Washington County, PA held for months at a Range Resource waste impoundment site, was what alarmed us and eventually caused Gov Rick Snyder’s kneejerk reaction to create the TENORM panel. The containers of frack sludge were moved off site some time ago and its final deposition is not known at this time. It did not go to a US Ecology facility in Michigan . . . yet.

Soon after, the Detroit Free Press blasted the news of the PA radioactive waste on its front page. We and volunteers from Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan held a vigil waiting for the trucks (that never came) at the landfill/processing facility in Van Buren Township, near Belleville, last August. US Ecology’s top radiology guy, Joe Weismann, came out to greet us, after reading this website from all the way out in Idaho. He came to Michigan to do damage control. . . and presumably at that time made the deal with the governor to quiet things down for a while. Weismann did a dog and pony show type presentation to  Van Buren Township residents at a township meeting. He was on the TENORM panel.

Ban Michigan Fracking did more investigating about the 36 tons of radioactive frack sludge and FOIA’d the DEQ for the tests of its radioactive content. We also learned about the industry’s system of diluting the high radioactive content by simply mixing it up with inert materials, and depositing all of it into the landfill that way. The 36 tons was  moved to some undisclosed location in late October. DEQ confirmed with us today that the 36 tons have not yet come to the US Ecology facility in Belleville. It was also the last request for radioactive frack waste disposal that came to the Michigan DEQ from US Ecology.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan members protest outside frack waste facility near Belleville, August 2014.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan members protest outside frack waste facility near Belleville, August 2014.

The Detroit Free Press did a lot more investigating of the Michigan Disposal/Wayne Disposal landfill, too, finding a history of violations, fines and fires. We dug up the records from Pennsylvania as to what’s come to Belleville and found over 20 tons of drill cuttings and about 315 tons of “flowback fracturing sand,” all from Greene County in Pennsylvania’s southwestern edge where the frack industry is ravaging people’s health.

The governor’s panel, which evaluated the DEQ’s current system of taking in radioactive wastes and saw virtually nothing wrong with it, (as DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel predicted) came up with a handful of recommendations that the state could “consider” changing. Such as shuffling around the placement of radioactive waste within a landfill. It also had a former DEQ staffer as the person “representing the public.” We’ll take a better look at the report in the next weeks and make more comments.

And you can too. Michigan DEQ issued a press release that the department will take public comments on the report in a 30-day comment period starting today. Comments can be submitted by email to DEQ-TENORMPublicComments@michigan.gov, or by mail to 525 W. Allegan St., Lansing, MI, 48933.

NY Bans fracking with CBFM logo

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, the ballot question committee with hundreds of volunteers from around the state, is more resolved than ever to stop these wastes from coming into the state. The Committee is actively pursuing a ballot initiative that for two years now has rallied voters to ban fracking and frack wastes at the next statewide election in 2016. Frack wastes going to facilities in places such as the Belleville landfill, a waste processing facility in Detroit (also owned by US Ecology), and in the hundreds of injection wells and landfills throughout the state, would be banned once the proposal is passed. To volunteer for, and donate to, the ballot initiative, go to www.LetsBanFracking.org.

The Michigan DEQ does not keep or provide the public any records on the amounts, types, or locations of frack wastes being generated, emitted, processed, treated, stored, or dumped in the state. Any landfill in Michigan can accept radioactive wastes as long as it’s diluted 50 picocuries/gram with other materials. In December we reported on the 2,200 tons of frack waste from Pennsylvania dumped in Michigan based on Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s database, which tracks the waste.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over 2200 tons of Pennsylvania frack waste dumped in Michigan

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Waste disposal company A-1 Northern in Kalkaska received over 400 tons of frack wastes from Pennsylvania. Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking.

We’ve known this for a while now, but it’s time  to get it out there: Michigan is fast becoming a frack waste state.

Part of the story is that Michigan facilities are taking in wastes from other states.

The other part is that the frack industry generated huge amounts of wastes from Michigan frack wells.

The startling news about out of state frack waste is that  over 2,200 tons of frack waste from Pennsylvania have come to Michigan in three counties: Wayne, Monroe and Kalkaska.

We learned of this by searching the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s “oil and gas reporting” website. That the State of Michigan Dept of Environmental Quality Office of Oil Gas and Minerals neither tracks the disposal of frack wastes–generated in Michigan or elsewhere–nor provides the information to the public as Pennsylvania does, is troubling.

The Michigan facilities are headquartered in the communities of Van Buren Township,  Kalkaska, Detroit and Erie, but exact disposal facilities are not known for the Kalkaska wastes.

Van Buren Township: The Belleville-area twin processing and landfill facilities now owned by US Ecology, called Michigan Disposal and Wayne Disposal, accepted 20.42 tons of drill cuttings (which is TENORM: Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occuring Radioactive Materials) from a Greene County, Pennsylvania horizontal well in 2010 (PA reported it in 2014). And another 315.75 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” from several horizontal wells in Greene County were brought to Wayne Disposal at various times from 2010 through 2013 (but not reported by PA until 2014). See our four stories earlier this year on this website about Michigan Disposal/Wayne Disposal. We do not yet know the final disposition of the radioactive sludge approved for shipment to Wayne Disposal. Story 1, Story 2, Story 3, Story 4.

Kalkaska: Over 400 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” landed in Kalkaska County, according to the State of Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection website. The materials came from Marcellus shale unconventional wells in Greene and Washington Counties in southwest PA outside of Pittsburgh. Chevron Appalachia LLC is the operator.  The wastes went to A-1 Northern (pictured above), an oil/gas waste disposal company, although the exact facility location is not specified. The disposal method is described as “storage pending disposal or reuse.”

Detroit: Detroit got the worst of it. Over 1,466 tons of “flowback fracturing sand” went to the US Ecology facility at 6520 Georgia Street, near Hamtramck which is the former Dynecol facility. The Marcellus shale frack wastes came from horizontal frack wells in a host of Pennsylvania counties–Butler, Clarion, Clearfield, Fayette, Greene, Indiana and Westmoreland–all in 2011 and 2012, but not reported until 2014. The former Dynecol site, which was a hazardous liquid waste processing facility in operation since 1974 “for the Midwest US and Canadian industrial markets,” is now owned by US Ecology, which  bought it in 2012, around the same time the frack wastes were brought to Detroit. The company now carries out a number of hazardous operations with radioactive waste, including, according to the DEQ, processing of radioactive frack wastes which are solidified and then shipped to a facility in Idaho. What parts from that “processing” remain in Detroit? We wish we knew.

Erie: And then there’s the Vienna Junction Landfill on the Erie, MI/Toledo, OH border which also has accepted frack waste from Pennsylvania. According to the PA Department of Environmental Protection website again, Vienna Junction took in 6,085.21 tons of frack wastes from horizontal wells located in Tioga County in the reporting period July – December 2012. We’re not including this tonnage in our headline, since we don’t know how much of it landed in Michigan versus Ohio. But it’s close enough to affect Monroe County residents.

These Pennsylvania statistics are just for the first half of 2014. We’ll update this article when the data for the rest of the year becomes available.

That’s just the wastes from one state. Undoubtedly there is more coming here, with regional facilities in Detroit and Belleville that are designed to be regional “hubs” for the industry.

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Westerman well in Kalkaska County, Michigan. Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking.

The frack industry in Michigan is also producing its own wastes from operations here. We visited the Waters Landfill in Crawford County this year (pictured below), where solid frack wastes such as drill cuttings (which are classified as radioactive TENORM) are brought. Again, no records are kept by Michigan DEQ on their website. The landfills are not public in many cases. And putting together the picture of where all this frack waste is going is next to impossible.

Waters Landfill

The landfill in Waters, Crawford County, Michigan. Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking.

According to an article by Environment 360 at Yale University, an organization called Downstream Strategies attempted to trace fracking waste from Washington County PA and sites across the US and where it ends up and found they “just couldn’t do it.”

Frack wastes are also brought to Michigan class II injection wells (a total of 1,460, of which 654 the EPA says are for disposal, while the DEQ says disposal wells number 888. Any of Michigan’s old oil or gas wells can also be used for disposal of frack wastes and turned into injection wells). We will report on injection wells in Michigan in an upcoming article.

NY Bans fracking with CBFM logoThe Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot initiative would BAN frack wastes from other states from being processed, disposed or stored in Michigan. To make a contribution to the Committee, go to www.letsbanfracking.org.

 

PDF’s of the downloaded reports from the Pennsylvania DEP website:

Kalkaska: Kalkaska–WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198306_2014-1 WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_

DetroitDetroit–WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198307_2014-1-5

Van Buren Township: Wayne Disposal–WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198309_2014-1 Wayne Disposal–WasteByWasteFac

Erie: Vienna Junction WasteByWasteFacilityExport_Y_N_198194_2012-2-2 Vienna Junction WasteByWasteFac

 

Michigan frackers apply for 6 more wells, while NY bans fracking

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by LuAnne Kozma

The news last week, New York’s announcement to turn its moratorium into a statewide ban on high-volume, horizontal fracking, has groups around the country, like ours, celebrating. New York’s governor Cuomo relied on his departmental chiefs of environmental conservation and public health to recommend the decision based on the long awaited report, A Public Health Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development by the NY state health department. In the end, the NY governor relied on something acting state health commissioner Dr. Howard A. Zucker said: that when it came down to it, in personal terms, Zucker would not want  his family to live in a community that allowed fracking.  New York is  the first U.S. state in a shale-producing area to ban fracking statewide. Grassroots groups in New York are ecstatic, after so many years of working for a ban.

Six new frack wells planned for Michigan

Today in Michigan, however, the frack industry applied to the Michigan DEQ for six new horizontal frack wells for the northern Lower Peninsula: one in Kalkaska County where there are already several wells, and for the first time, three in Grand Traverse County and two in Manistee County. Three are owned or co-owned by the State of Michigan. The others are on private land.

fracking poster

Unlike in other states, the frack industry targets the Michigan A-1 carbonate formation in addition to the shale formation called the Utica-Collingwood shale. The shallower Antrim shale wells have used fracking, but not always horizontal drilling.

That the DEQ will issue these permits is a certainty, as all Michigan “applications” for oil and gas wells get a rubber stamp treatment. Indeed, it is state law that the Michigan DEQ “foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions and with a view to the ultimate recovery of the maximum production of these natural products.” (MCL 324.61502). Michigan also receives 5% of gross cash market value of the production of natural gas and 6.6% of oil. (MCL 205.303).

This is huge news. It’s not every week that six new wells in the Utica/Collingwood and A-1 Carbonate formations are applied for. All of the wells are not too distant from a proposed new natural gas plant near Elmira, in Otsego County near Gaylord.

The six new applications are as follows:

A140187 is the State Garfield C4-12 HD1 well in Garfield Township in Kalkaska County,  proposed to go down to 16,490 feet into the Utica-Collingwood formation. Tiger Development LLC out of Suttons Bay is the fracker.

The three wells for Grand Traverse County--the first time this county has seen a  horizontal high-volume well–planned by a company called WyoTex Drilling Ventures LLC–are:

A140189 is Cozart 1-25 HD1 in Green Lake Township, near Interlochen, proposed to target the A-1 Carbonate formation down about 7,741 feet in this area.

A140192 is McManus 1-1 HD1 in Blair Township, which will go down 7,153 to the A-1 Carbonate formation.

A140196 is Harrigan 3-12 HD1, also in Blair Township, which will target the A-1 Carbonate about 7,438 feet down.

In Manistee County, some more “firsts.”

A140194 is State Manistee & Anderson 1-3 H, in Manistee Township, which will reach the A-1 Carbonate about 5,702 feet down.

A140198 is State Springdale 1-26 HD1, in  Springdale Township, also targeting the A-1 Carbonate at a depth of 6,675 feet.

The above linked DEQ list of permit applications for December 15-19, the five WyoTex permit applications for horizontal wells targeting the A-1 Carbonate formation in Grand Traverse and Manistee Counties do not contain the DEQ’s customary “well may be completed using high volume hydraulic fracturing” note. While it is still uncertain if these wells will be completed by fracking as opposed to some other method, we do know that most Michigan A-1 Carbonate wells, especially at these depths, have been fracked in the past. We don’t always agree with the governor-approved pro-frack “Technology” technical report of UM’s Graham Sustainability Institute of September 3, 2013, but it does say this about fracking Michigan’s A-1 Carbonate formation:

http://graham.umich.edu/media/files/HF-02-Technology.pdf :

“In general, Michigan oil companies have not been technology leaders in oil and gas exploration and production. They have followed much the same conservative (but safe and usually environmentally sound) pathway of many other mid-range producing states such as Ohio and Indiana. This may change with the recent discovery of probable gas and perhaps oil in formations such as the A-1 and A-2 Carbonates and perhaps even the deeper Collingwood and Utica shales (including the Utica in Ohio), but little appears to be known about these on a micro-geological scale and they will be costly to explore and develop based on the few results obtained so far. Directional drilling and fracking will be required, based on what is known of the limited permeability of these formations and the laterals will probably have to be of unusual length to ensure reasonable gas production.”  [emphasis in original]

So Michigan continues its fracking program. Meanwhile, Michigan’s big environmental groups say they will focus on regulations for fracking, not a ban.

Democracy in action: Michigan’s Ballot Initiative for 2016

Michigan voters have been working feverently on instituting a ban on fracking and frack wastes using the ballot initiative process. The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan (a separate entity), the ballot initiative we started in 2012, responded to the NY ban in a press release, calling for more volunteers and donations. The Committee also urged Michigan health professionals to document how fracking is impacting Michigan’s fracked communities and to speak out about fracking.

To join in these efforts, Ban Michigan Fracking asks everyone in Michigan who would like to see our state become frack-free– and free of frack wastes– to contact the Committee, volunteer, donate, and endorse!

www.letsbanfracking.org

NY Bans fracking with CBFM logo

Committee to Ban Fracking protests in Lansing

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People from around the state in the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan organized a protest in Lansing on October 29 while the Michigan DNR auctioned off more acres of mineral rights to the frackers.

Anti-Fracking Group Protests Sale of Oil and Gas Rights on State-Owned Land

TV 10 covered the event here.

The Committee is working on a ballot initiative campaign to ban fracking and frack wastes and could use your donation today! Go here to donate.

And you can keep up with the ballot initiative on Facebook too: https://www.facebook.com/CommitteeToBanFrackingInMichigan

Marathon Oil may have purchased most of the auction’s acreage

From Michigan Oil and Gas News, reporting on the auction:

  • “Bidders believed to be representing Marathon Oil Co. dominated the Oct. 29, 2014 auction sale of state of Michigan-owned minerals at the Lansing Center, picking up more than 148,000 of the 152,629.16 acres successfully bid.”
  • “All but 164 of the parcels successfully bid were at the minimum $10 per acre, which helped keep the overall average bid per acre at only $17.15 per acre.”
  • “The news that Marathon Oil Co. — founded in 1887 as the Ohio Oil Co. — had recently completed a transaction in which it acquired Encana Oil & Gas (USA) Inc.’s Michigan asset marks the return of one of the state’s oldest and most storied producer/operator after an absence of 15 years.”

Below is the Committee’s press release for more information about the ballot initiative:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
October 28, 2014
Contact: LuAnne Kozma, Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan

(231) 944-8750 luanne@letsbanfracking.org

Ballot initiative to ban fracking supporters to protest in Lansing
Charlevoix, Michigan – The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, a statewide ballot initiative campaign (www.letsbanfracking.org), will gather outside the Lansing Center (in downtown Lansing) tomorrow, October 29, to protest the Michigan DNR’s twice-annual auction of state-owned mineral rights. The event takes place Wednesday from 7:00 am to noon. The auction begins at 9:00 am.
The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan is a ballot question committee that collected over 70,000 signatures in 2013 for a statewide ban on fracking and frack wastes. The Committee’s proposal is not on this November’s ballot. The group is working on placing it on the next statewide ballot in 2016.
“The State’s role in creating more fracking starts with the DNR auction of mineral rights,” said LuAnne Kozma, the Committee’s campaign director. “In addition to receiving royalties from the gas and oil industry for leasing mineral rights, the State also receives income from the production of oil and gas,[1] and is required by state law to ‘foster the development of the industry along the most favorable conditions,’[2] part of the current law our ballot initiative will overturn along with a ban on fracking and frack wastes.”
The group cites the continued push by the frack industry, supported by the State, in approving radioactive frack sludge from other states at a waste facility in Van Buren
Township in Wayne County,[3] the start of new pipelines that will bring fracked gas through the state,[4] and new natural gas plants proposed in Marquette and Gaylord. The fracking giant Encana recently sold its mineral rights to energy giant Marathon.[5]

“Nearly every day, Michiganders are facing a new threat from the frack industry as the State government helps industry turn our beautiful state into Gasland, whether it’s from radioactive frack waste or new natural gas plants. All of this industrialization is going to exacerbate climate change and health impacts,” said Kozma.
The DNR will auction off more state-owned mineral rights on thousands of acres in the following counties: Arenac, Clare, Crawford, Gladwin, Grand Traverse, Ingham, Isabella, Kalkaska, Manistee, Midland, Missaukee, Montmorency, Oceana, Osceola, Presque Isle, and Roscommon.

Public notice about the auction here:http://www.michigan.gov/documents/dnr/ProposedPubNotice_464073_7.pdf

Michigan DNR site about the auction here:

http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10368_11800-169044–,00.html

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s brochure here:

http://www.letsbanfracking.org/images/CBFM%20_2014_brochure_with%20links_FINAL.pdf

# # #
[1] MCL 205.303

[2] MCL 324.61502

[3] Series of articles at www.banmichiganfracking.org: http://banmichiganfracking.org/?p=2455

[4] Detroit Free Press, “Rival Projects Compete for OK to Build Gas Pipelines,” October 12, 2014. http://www.freep.com/story/money/business/columnists/tom-walsh/2014/10/12/tom-walsh-dueling-pipelines/17046379/

[5] Midland Daily News, “Fracking Michigan, Here We Go Again,” October 13, 2014. http://www.ourmidland.com/opinion/editorials/fracking-michigan—-here-we-go-again/article_69726cb9-a734-5afd-90f2-3c60f424263c.html

Radioactive frack sludge moved from Pennsylvania to who knows where

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by LuAnne Kozma

Word is just in from people on the ground in Pennsylvania that the 36 tons of radioactive frack sludge, that we reported on in August (here and here) and September, were moved yesterday from the impoundment site in Washington County where they have been stored in limbo for many months.

Radioactive frack sludge in Washington County, held for months at a Range Resource waste impoundment site, is now off the site and gone to who knows where. Submitted photo.

The material was approved by the Michigan DEQ for shipment to Michigan last August to Michigan/Wayne Disposal, a private processing and landfill facility in Van Buren Township near Belleville. After our reporting and subsequent publicity in the Detroit Free Press, the company, now owned by frack waste giant US Ecology, agreed to temporarily halt further shipments of radioactive waste pending a review of procedures by a governor-appointed TENORM panel. Theoretically, the approval has still been granted and it wouldn’t be illegal for it to be brought to the Michigan facility, just perhaps not politically acceptable.

According to the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, the shipment is likely not coming here to Michigan, due to the ongoing voluntary action by US Ecology. Ken Yale, who I spoke to yesterday, said he didn’t think that the company would risk taking the 36 tons from PA during their self-imposed moratorium when they are taking in over 400,000 tons per year of hazardous wastes.

Today I contacted Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection for some answers. As of 4:00 pm they have have not called back with a reply as to where the waste is going, after I spoke with someone in the Communications department.

Where the wastes are going, however, is anyone’s guess.

In other news, the application or request by US Ecology to take in waste at higher radiation levels at the Van Buren County Wayne Disposal Facility has been withdrawn, according to DEQ’s Ken Yale. Ban Michigan Fracking paid for a copy of that application or proposal through a Freedom of Information Act request and we are still awaiting its arrival.

 

No public representative on Michigan radioactive frack waste TENORM panel

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Meetings in Secret

Remember the panel the Governor set up to review the state’s disposal procedures on radioactive frack waste? Well, it’s meeting already, but meetings are not open to the public.

Apparently the panel members were named and the panel got started without fanfare, and without the public being allowed to attend its first meeting on September 22.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan members protest outside frack waste facility near Belleville, August 2014.

Ken Yale, the head of the DEQ’s Radiological division, who is also on the panel, told me yesterday that because they are a “pre-deliberative body” the state is not required to hold public meetings in accordance with the Michigan Open Meetings Act.

The Governor’s TENORM waste panel has a former DEQ radiology employee as representing “the public” 

And there’s another blow to transparency and public participation. One panel member was to represent the DEQ–and that’s Ken Yale himself. Another member was to represent the public. According to this September 22 press release by the DEQ, it lists Dave Minnaar, of Middleville, as the person “representing the public.”

Minnaar isn’t from the affected communities near frack waste sites, and he’s not simply someone from “the public.” In fact, he’s a former DEQ employee. Minnaar was one of the contributing specialists to the report An Assessment of the Disposal of Petroleum Industry NORM in Nonhazardous Landfills, which brought us the disposal standards the State is now using, along with his co-worker Bob Skwronek, who today makes the approvals on the radioactive wastes coming in to Michigan.

In this Argus-Press news article from January 1990, Blanchard says Michigan can handle nuke waste, Minnaar is quoted as the deputy chief of radiological health for the state Department of Health, saying that Low Level Radioactive Waste storage facilities (being proposed back then) pose no threat to public health. The group that fought the Low Level Radioactive Waste site during those years, Don’t Waste Michigan is also quoted in the story. I contacted an activist involved in that fight yesterday and he remembers Minnaar as one of the biggest salesman for the nuke dump.

Minnaar was one of the key DEQ employees who handled the bizarre incident in 1994-95 of the “radioactive Boy Scout,” a Detroit area teenager who assembled and worked with highly radioactive materials in his backyard. In the clean-up, the most radioactive materials, including radium and thorium, were thrown away into the household refuse (and into a local landfill) by his parents before the DEQ had the chance to haul away a bunch of barrels out west for disposal.

Expertise aside, as a former DEQ employee responsible for overseeing the very disposal methods the state uses, this appointment is not the same as having someone “from the public” on the panel.

But as DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel has already declared, this panel’s recommendations are a forgone conclusion anyway: “the review panel will conclude that existing Michigan standards are appropriate.” Wurfel’s admission that this is a charade is quite bald.

 

After the huge climate march

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The People’s Climate March in New York City on Sunday September 21 was seen by many as a turning point for the climate movement. It definitely was a start. Four hundred thousand people walked, an amazing number, ten times the size of the previous climate march in Washington in February 2013.

Organizers say there were 1574 participating organizations, 630,000 social media posts, and 5200 articles written.  Around the world 2646 allied events took place in 162 countries.

The organizers’ video features some good footage, however, optimistically ending with Obama speaking to the UN saying leaders “have to answer the call” (yet… the president continues an all-of-the-above-energy policy and is pushing fracking and natural gas across the US and globally.)

The New York Times featured the worldwide events the next day on the front page, noting that this summer “was the hottest on record for the globe, and that 2014 was on track to break the record for the hottest year, set in 2010.” (Yet one week later on September 27, an activist noted the same paper did not have a single article on #climate).

The two-mile-long march was led by indigenous people and frontline communities — those most immediately impacted by climate change.  The line stepped off from Broadway and Columbus Circle at 11:30 am.

An hour and a half later, we in the anti-frack contingent a mile to the north on Central Park West waited for the backward sweep of the starting signal to reach us.  At that moment, a 2-minute lull of eerie silence fell upon the procession — signaled in advance by organizers’ text messages.

Then followed an amazing sound.  At first it was like like a careening jet airplane, faint but scary.  It increased exponentially, becoming human as it surged toward us through the crowd, an overwhelming wave of voices, erupting finally around us, in a massive and sustained ecstatic communal roar. Soon we were on our way.

Photo by Ban Michigan Fracking

The crowd featured majestic banners, pageantry, diversity, young people of color, political and diplomatic officials, victims of superstorm Sandy, labor unions, grassroots enviro groups, Big Greens, celebrities, socialists, anarchists, homeless, and everyone else. There was a remarkable humanitarian and internationalist spirit.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan volunteers walk with film maker Josh Fox. Photo by L. Kozma

 

Activists in the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan were among 400 people from Michigan at the march, including 322 that came in seven buses and 40 in four vans.

Converging for climate with other grassroots activists

On Friday and Saturday before the march, the Global Climate Convergence (endorsed by Ban Michigan Fracking), a two-day conference organized by grassroots activists held in lower Manhattan, offered over 100 workshops and two plenaries, attended by 2500 people, including a session on “Frack Bans with Teeth” by BMF’s LuAnne Kozma on the Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan’s ballot initiative.

In contrast to the goals of the March, the Climate Convergence Conference called for people, planet, and peace over profit.  More particularly:  full employment, 100% clean renewable energy, universal free healthcare and education, securing the global food supply, economic democracy, demilitarization, and end to mass incarceration and deportations, political democracy, civil liberties, and support for peace, human rights, and rights of Mother Earth.

At #FloodWallStreet, photo by LuAnne Kozma.

 

On Monday, also in contrast to the March, over 2000 protesters acted to #FloodWallStreet to disrupt business as usual and highlight the financial sector’s role in climate change. Ban Michigan Fracking also took part in this action. There were over 100 arrests, including an activist in a polar bear outfit (Frostpaw by Center for Biological Diversity), who was handcuffed and arrested. One scene from #FloodWallStreet (video by Ban Michigan Fracking. Click to see video): IMG_1550 Mic check

Going Beyond Extreme Energy

Similar marches continue, such as http://climatemarch.org. Grassroots groups at Converge for Climate called for System Change, Not Climate change. Popular Resistance calls for larger and escalated action on climate change, starting with a week of action in Washington DC on November 1-7 for Beyond Extreme Energy. A call to retire fossil fuels, this action calls on the government “to drop its ‘all of the above’ energy strategy. Extreme energy extraction–fracking, tar sands, deep ocean drilling, Arctic drilling, mountaintop removal — of the last fossil fuels condemns us to ravaged landscapes, poisoned water, and weather convulsions.”

Ban Michigan Fracking’s purpose is to educate and advocate so that we stop fostering fossil fuels and in particular, stop the frack industry here as part of the overall movement to ban the frack industry globally.

A cultural shift is needed, too. Most people are dubious of corporations and of government, the main creators of the climate problem in the first place.  But equally, most people don’t have a clear political vision, and have no objection to the political elite and corporate executives who joined the march.

Our country has a conservative ideology and political system, and a culture of acquisitive individualism.  To save the planet and ourselves, the majority will have to rise against the few whose commitment is to money and power.  Only such a transformation will allow the technical solutions to flower.

We have a world to win.

CH4 and CO2 models getting tossed around at the People's Climate March.

Update on radioactive frack wastes in Michigan

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Numerous trucks went in and out of the Michigan Disposal facility in Belleville when we picketed for 9 hours on August 21. Several of the loads were these “roll off containers” similar to the ones used for radioactive frack sludge. Photo by LuAnne Kozma.

by LuAnne Kozma

Election-year politics seems to have intervened temporarily with the radioactive frack wastes from Washington County, Pennsylvania (where the wastes remain).  Governor Rick Snyder announced on August 25 that he is creating a panel to “review disposal standards” of the state’s radioactive waste. Additionally the company taking in the radioactive materials from Pennsylvania said it would temporarily suspend additional shipments until the panel’s review is complete.

MLive noted Michigan DEQ spokesperson Brad Wurfel’s prediction that “the review panel will conclude that existing Michigan standards are appropriate.” Wurfel’s admission that this is a charade is quite bald.

For his part, Democratic challenger Mark Schauer, who never mentions fracking whatsoever, opportunistically stated on his website that only out-of-state radioactive waste is his issue: “We can’t allow Michigan to be a dumping ground for radioactive waste that other states won’t allow in their own landfills.” Which is partly good, and of course it’s politically correct to not like radioactive waste, except that he doesn’t cover radioactive frack waste created locally.

Tonight in Van Buren Township: presentation by Wayne Disposal to calm people’s fears about the radioactive wastes in their backyards

The Belleville Independent reports that tonight, September 2, the director of the landfill, Wayne Disposal, will make a presentation at the Van Buren Township meeting and answer questions.  The public has to put the questions on cards. Township supervisor Linda Combs told the newspaper radioactive shipments from frack wastes were announced October 1, 2014 after public hearings and EPA approval. The local paper reported earlier this year that the landfill’s liner had ripped. In two articles about the torn liner, dated January 2  and February 7, it reported that Wayne Disposal does not take in radioactive waste.

What’s in radioactive frack sludge, anyway?

Here’s one study of the stuff:

Rich AL and Crosby EC, “Analysis of reserve pit sludge from unconventional natural gas hydraulic fracturing and drilling operations for the presence of technically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material (TENORM),” New Solut. 2013;23(1):117-35. doi: 10.2190/NS.23.1.h.

Michigan frackers are producing frack wastes and it’s not tested for radioactivity

Back in 2011 we tried to get more information from the Michigan DEQ regarding the frack wastes that were being created by Michigan’s impending frack industry. We were told in a series of emails from MDEQ’s Paul Jankowski that “there are no rules requiring an oil/gas field waste disposal well to test for radioactivity.”  In this series of questions, we got the following answers:

BMF: Does this mean there is no rule requiring disposal well operators to test material for radioactivity before disposing of it into the well?

Jankowski: Correct.

BMF: And is there also no rule requiring that gas wells test flowback before sending it to a disposal well?

Jankowski: Correct.

On Michigan drilling permits, the operator states if there is a “reserve pit” and whether the materials will be “solidified on site.”   If there is a landfill where the materials are to be brought, the landfill is sometimes named.

For reference: Michigan Disposal Inc’s website, with permits

Media articles about the radioactive frack sludge:

Matheny, Keith, “Michigan landfill operator suspends receipt of low-level radioactive waste,” Detroit Free Press, August 25, 2014.

Ortzman, Rosemary, “Wayne Disposal official to bring information to Sept 2 VBT board meeting,” Belleville Independent, August 28, 2014.

Smith, Heather, “Frackers are sending sludge to the mitten state,” Grist, August 19, 2014.

 

 

 

 

Michigan reacts, and the documents behind the radioactive frack sludge waste saga

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by LuAnne Kozma, Ban Michigan Fracking

Six days after our story was posted, alerting the public about the radioactive sludge heading to Michigan, the Detroit Free Press blasted their own story, “Michigan Takes in Radioactive Sludge” on the front page on August 19, causing a statewide wake-up call.

House and senate democrats sent out emails about the issue with links to the article, asking for money for the upcoming elections, and a Republican state senator got press saying he’d introduce a bill to make “the same tough standards of other states” like Ohio. (More on that in a future post. Ohio did not make tougher standards, they took drill cuttings out of the definition of TENORM!)

Today’s Detroit Free Press ran this cartoon by cartoonist Mike Thompson, “Radioactive Sludge in Your Backyard”:  http://www.freep.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2014308230020

And volunteers with Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan, Ban Michigan Fracking and others joined in a demonstration outside the facility on Thursday, Aug 21 for nine hours to bring attention to the pending shipment.

Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan at the radioactive frack waste disposal site in Belleville, Michigan, August 21, 2014.

Ballot initiative would ban this waste, statewide

The Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan‘s ballot initiative would put an end to frack wastes being processed, disposed, or stored in the state. The Committee’s volunteers have been trying to ban frack wastes for the past two years. This year the Committee is collecting contributions and volunteers in order to obtain signatures next year for placing on the ballot in 2016. See the Committee’s new 4-page brochure detailing the many harms of fracking and how ballot initiative works.

In the meantime, a radioactive liner from Pennsylvania was also approved by DEQ for processing and disposal in Michigan.

Documents obtained by Ban Michigan Fracking on August 19 through a Freedom of Information Act request filed last week, show that a radioactive liner was approved on August 18 by the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality for processing and disposal at the same Belleville waste facility, in addition to the two roll-out containers of radioactive TENORM frack sludge from Washington County. Ban Michigan Fracking obtained six email exchanges between the Michigan DEQ and the EQ/US Ecology disposal facility (also called Michigan Disposal Inc and Wayne Disposal Inc, owned by EQ and recently purchased by US Ecology) in Michigan requesting to process and dispose of the Pennsylvania frack waste, the DEQ giving approval, and several lab reports sampling the radioactive materials.

Posted at the bottom of this article are the documents we obtained from the DEQ.

The liner is identified as coming from “the MCC site” and that the “Range Resource MCC site approvals we just completed generated a box of liner.” Other emails and attached lab reports are for samples taken for “MCC Partners.”

On the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s website oil and gas searchable database called “eFacts,” a search turned up the following five well sites and one pipeline with the name “MCC Partners” which appear to share the same address as Range Resources.

BURKETT WELLS TO MCC PARTNERS PIPELINE (770971)Jefferson Township, Washington Active Water Planning and Conservation
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 10H (772460)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 10H (772460)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317-5839
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 11H (772461)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 7H (770612)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington
Active Oil & Gas
MCC PARTNERS (WEST) UNIT 8H (773836)
3000 TOWN CENTER BLVD
CANONSBURG, PA  15317
Jefferson Township, Washington

A map of the 808 frack sites in Washington County, Pennsylvania can be found here.

In an email to the Michigan DEQ on August 14 requesting the permission to process the liner, a Michigan Disposal Inc./US Ecology company representative in Belleville, Sylwia Chrostowski, states “MDI  [Michigan Disposal Inc.] proposes to manage the liner in its treatment tanks the same way that MDI has managed the TENORM sludge.” She then goes on to describe the dilution or “downblending” process they would employ, breaking the material up into smaller portions, mixing it with other materials to make the concentration of each portion less radioactive. First the pit liner would be cut up into 4 ft x 4 ft sheets. “If the liner tears and cannot be transferred in whole 4′ x 4′ sheets” the company’s back up plan is to gather up the liner using an excavator (bulldozer) and load it into a blending tank at Michigan Disposal Inc. one bucketful at a time.

After downblending, the material would be disposed at the company’s sister disposal site at the same location called Wayne Disposal Inc. Chrostowski states the “size of the liner makes it difficult to sample.” The level of Radium 226 in the liner was measured at 901 pCi/g. The limit for putting into Michigan landfills is 50 pCi/g, for a given container. Materials identified as coming from Range’s Cowden drill pads of “flowback solids” was measured at 570 pCi/g. The 901 pCi/g and 570 pCi/g loads will be traveling on Michigan highways to Belleville.

We don’t know yet how big this liner box is, or where it is currently located. To the best of our knowledge, the two roll-off containers containing the radioactive sludge are still in Pennsylvania on the Carter frack waste impoundment. Those approvals and requests for processing are also indicated in the email exchanges. The radioactive sludge is from a drilling site or sites by the name of Cowden.

The shipment(s) from Pennsylvania, the liner with all of its radioactive components, and the TENORM radioactive sludge still will land in the landfill facility in Belleville in its entirety when all is said and done. It will just be dismembered into smaller pieces mixed in with other stuff.

Protest at the frack waste facility in Belleville and a greeting by the company’s top brass

Soon after Committee to Ban Fracking in Michigan arrived at the protest site, a staffer named Joe Weismann, in a blue US Ecology logo shirt, drove out of the facility to talk to us.  He explained that they “take in hazardous material and make it non-hazardous” and that the facility is permitted by both the EPA and the MDEQ. He would not tell us when the truck shipment would arrive because the company keeps information about their clients private. He did not allow us to record him, nor did he have a card or give his contact information. Weismann, as it turns out, was not a security guard. He is vice president of radiological and field services at US Ecology, headquartered in Idaho, their top radiation guy.

How DEQ approves these shipments

DEQ’s Radiological Division chief, Ken Yale, explained in an email on Aug 19: “As background information on how the approval process works:  the Radiological Protection Section (RPS) of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (MDEQ) typically gets an email from Wayne/Michigan Disposal that details a particular shipment they would like to accept for down blending. To show the concentration of Technologically Enhanced Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (TENORM) in the proposed shipment, they include a lab report from an independent lab. If the concentration of TENORM exceeds 50 picocuries/gram radium-226, Wayne/Michigan Disposal request permission to mix the material with inert material until the concentration is below 50 picocuries/gram radium-226. The RPS reviews the lab report and the blending calculations to provide an independent analysis. Once we are satisfied the analysis and calculations are acceptable, we will send an email indicating our approval of the blending process. Once the material is mixed to a concentration below 50 picocuries/gram radium-226, it is below the acceptance limit for any Michigan landfill, but it is placed in Wayne Disposal which is a hazardous waste landfill.”

Michigan DEQ’s Yale said in a phone call the liner is from a container of some kind, not an impoundment or frack drilling pad. US Ecology’s Joe Wiesmann’s answer at the disposal site during the demonstration was that it is from a frack pit liner and that the company regularly takes in such liners from frack sites, explaining how the liners are portable and re-used.

Connecticut bans frack wastes for 3 years

On August 19 the New Haven Register reported that the governor of Connecticut signed a bill banning for 3 years the storage and handling of frack wastes. The state senate passed it unanimously and the house overwhelmingly. New Jersey legislators similarly passed a bill this summer that governor Chris Christie vetoed. An Asbury Park Press (NJ) editorial today “Lawmakers, show backbone on veto” hopes lawmakers override his veto but are afraid they won’t. The editorial mentions the radioactive frack waste story in Michigan.

We don’t want “regulation” of frack wastes, allowing it under certain conditions. We want it banned outright. Anyone who is against frack waste must also be against the activity that creates it–fracking.

Contents of the Freedom of Information Act Request obtained by Ban Michigan Fracking from the DEQ:

Email 1: “Range Cowden” dated August 5, 2014: Chrostowski to Mich DEQ’s Skowronek, requesting to process wastes with Ra-226 at 570 pCi/g

Email 2: “RE Range Cowden” dated August 7, 2014: Chrostowski to Mich DEQ’s Skowronek asking again for review of request of August 5

Email 3: “MCC Flowback Solids” dated August 8, 2014: Chrostowski to Mich DEQ’s Skowronek asking for approval to blend Marcellus Shale flowback solids, some of which are at 901 pCi/g.

Email 4: “RE Range Cowden” dated August 11, 2014: DEQ’s Skowronek to Chrostowski granting permission to process and dispose of the Range Cowden materials requested on Aug 5.

Email 5: “RE MCC Flowback Solids” dated August 11, 2014: DEQ’s Skowonek to Chrostowski granting permission to process and dispose of the MCC Flowback Solids reqeusted on Aug 8.

Email 6: “RE MCC Partners Liner” dated August 18, 2014: DEQ’s David Asselin to Chrostowski granting permission to process and dispose of the liner, and the original request asking for permission to process the liner.

Lab reports:

Cowden report

MCC Partners report